Everhood is an adventure RPG from Chris Nordgren, a Mojang developer responsible for visual work on Minecraft: Dungeons. It takes a lot of cues from Toby Fox’s Undertale, taking players on a lo-fi meander through a weird and wonderful underworld to recover a wooden doll’s lost arm.
Everhood‘s artistic and musical merit does it a lot of favours. It does a fantastic job of crafting unsettling psychedelic experiences in the rhythm-game combat system, tense battles quickly becoming bizarre, fractal nightmares that turn the world upside down. This seems to be the core, the structure that the rest of the game was built around, because it’s in these moments where Everhood is the most enjoyable. Not necessarily as a game – the difficulty is quite steep, and even being able to adjust the difficulty on the fly doesn’t excuse some of the more frenetic encounters. But as a sheer spectacle, Everhood shines.
It’s the rest of the game that leaves a bit of a mediocre taste in the mouth. In contrast, I recently watched the entirety of Buddy Simulator 1984, a game which seems to take an amount of inspiration from Undertale but does something entirely new with it. Everhood just feels like Undertale with a bunch of psychoactive chemicals pumped into it, with none of Toby Fox’s heart or wit. I’m not saying that Fox has exclusive rights to top down, pixel-art RPGs with unique twists. There are just moments where it’s far more derivative than it is inspired by, and that really undermines the visual excellence Everhood exhibits sometimes.
Some of the rhythm battles go on for too long. Some end just as they seem to be hitting their stride. For most of them you can’t actually do anything besides hop from lane to lane avoiding stuff, and it’s not really the most engaging mechanic. Some awesome artwork plays out, but typically you’re so focused on dodging the deluge of colourful attacks that you can’t pay any proper attention to them.
You proceed through different levels in pursuit of your missing arm, and the story is filled out in tiny bits and pieces. The different worlds are all linked by the Cosmic Hub, which sounds quite bombastic, but it’s actually just a black screen with a bunch of doors hovering in nothingness. I’m not sure if this sense of disconnection is one Everhood intended to create, what with all the DMT references – it never contributes to the game feeling otherworldly or psychedelic, though. You’d think that the understated moments would contrast wildly against the vivid combat sections, but it never quite comes together like that.
Variety is provided in the form of minigames and distractions like a kart racing segment that evokes classic Mario Kart. These games are fun, but there’s always that sense that they’re just missing something essential to bring them to life. The characters all feel very much the same way – visually distinct, for sure, but with one-note personalities that don’t seem to develop enough to embed them in memory. In motion, the game can look like a masterpiece – when it slows down, or comes to a complete halt, it just feels empty.
Everhood: Overall thoughts
Everhood is a handful of brilliant ideas strung together by a flat Undertale rehash. Honestly, it pains me a little bit to speak of it so harshly, because the world it takes place in feels so desperate to come to life. The game expects the quirky characters and psychedelic combat to carry it through, and it feels like the bare minimum of effort has been put into the writing. When that was part what made Undertale (and, in my opinion, Buddy Simulator 1984) so great, it’s a big step to skip, and one that has robbed Everhood of a lot of potential.